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British Council office reopenings prompt Russian legal threats

[JURIST] Two Russian offices of the British Council [official website] in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg resumed operations Monday, defying a shutdown order [JURIST report] from the Russian government. Russian authorities say that the Council has violated Russian tax laws; the Council, a non-departmental public body that promotes UK culture abroad, has insisted that it is an arm of the British Embassy and is entitled to immunity from taxation. The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned British ambassador Sir Tony Brenton regarding the reopenings, calling them an "intentional provocation". In a statement [text, in Russian], it said that it would be "forced to take a series of measures for administrative and legal pressure", including no longer issuing new visas to UK employees at the two offices.

Russia has clamped down on foreign associations operating within its territory since a controversial law imposing restrictions on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) took effect [JURIST report] in April 2006. The law imposes strict financial oversight on NGOs and provides for dissolution if an organization's activities is deemed to "threaten Russia's independence or sovereignty" or if an organization participates in activities deemed to deviate from its mission statement. Russian President Vladimir Putin has defended the measure as being necessary to protect against "puppeteers abroad" [JURIST report]. AP has more. BBC News has additional coverage.

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